Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pondering (perhaps a little late) Life's Second Half

With about 10,000 of my generational cohorts reaching 65 everyday, I’m sure I’m not the only one contemplating the next phase of life.  I don’t know about the other 72 million people of my vintage, but I’ve been ruminating about this transition to post-employment life (some call it retirement) for the last six years.

Here’s an interesting tidbit:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- A quarter of middle-class Americans are now so pessimistic about their savings that they are planning to delay retirement until they are at least 80 years old -- two years longer than the average person is even expected to live.  (November 16, 2011)
I used to think I’d never want to retire.  I don’t feel that way anymore.  I used to admire as role models people who worked in their profession until they died.  Not anymore.  From time to time, I’ve contemplated some type of post-career employment, but as I see some of my colleagues check out (well, die) in their 60s and 70s, I can't get excited about working in my current field or a new one until I drop. 

As I’ve ruminated and vacillated on the timing, it’s now too late for me to retire early.  But on the other hand, it’s not too late for me to put an end to this dithering.  Last time I looked at Vanguard’s actuarial tables, they showed that I have a 50% chance of making it to 83 and a 10% chance of making it to 93. So, there’s no use putting off the next phase of life.  I’ve decided that I can retire early after all – as long as you define early as 66.

The first time I even contemplated a post-employed life was six years ago. At that time, I anticipated at least ten more years of work and in two or three more jobs.  Ironically, since that time I’ve worked six different jobs with three different employers.   (No wonder I’m so mentally fatigued!)
About five years ago, in a bad job situation, I started wondering how I could last another three years and hang up my spurs at 60.  After deciding to “downshift” to a lower level job with a rational employer, I pushed the target date out again to age 65.  Sometimes I’ve even considered remaining employed until 70, if I were to have that opportunity.

But the actuary is compelling.  Life is not a rehearsal, and I want to spend some of it free.
Sounds like a precipitous decision?  It is.  It only took me and six years and a lot of reading to make it.  Besides on-line retirement articles and guides here’s a sample of the books on my bookshelf:
After 50, Embracing Your Own Wisdom Years; Robert J. Wicks
Beyond Work: How Accomplished People Retire Successfully; Bill Roiter
Encore, Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life; Marc Freedman
My Next Phase (web application)
Playing Life's Second Half; David J. Powell, Ph.D.
Portfolio Life, The New Path to Work, Purpose and Passion After 50; David Corbett with Richard Higgins
The Second Half of Life, Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom; Angeles Arrien 
Too Young to Retire, 101 Ways to Start the Rest of Your Life; Marika and Howard Stone
The Wall Street Journal Complete Retirement Guidebook, How to Live It and Enjoy It; Glenn Ruffenach & Kelly Greene
What Color Is Your Parachute? For Retirement, Planning Now for the Life You Want; Richard Bolles and John E. Nelson
Winners in the Second Half: A Guide for Executives at the Top of their Game; Julie Perigo.
It’s amazing to me how often these titles describe this period as the second half of life. At 62, I’m really mid-near-elderly rather than middle aged.  The challenge of being so far along in life in (as compared to early life transitions) is that there’s a lot to look back on and reference who you’ve been. That gets in the way considering who you’ll become.
What am I supposed to become?  Angels Arrien says this transition is among other things: 

·         From ambition to meaning
·         From acquisition to divestment
·         From doing to being
·         From our unnatural frenetic pace to the medium to slow speed of nature
·         From attachment to release, surrender, and letting go
As to ambition, I’m reminded of a phrase from a short story by Kurt Vonnegut. He describes the two main characters "unencumbered by ambition."  I’m not totally unencumbered by ambition – from time to time, I’ve been a little conflicted about my decision be downwardly mobile at this point in my career.  And I can get hooked into aspiring, ever so briefly, to a big leadership job that I’ve heard about.  Lately, all I have to do about that is lie down until the feeling goes away.

Overall, I’m making progress in being unencumbered by ambition and recognizing, as Julie Perigo, describes it that I’m “off the (career) ladder.”  It’s a good metaphor.  Mary Astor said, "There are five stages in the life of an actor: Who's Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who's Mary Astor?"  I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced stages two, three and four, but I aspire to stage five and to be fully unencumbered by ambition.

I am what I am, Just Dan, a grown man
No ego, pretensions, prestige
With nothing to prove and no worlds to move
I'm loose, light, free and at ease

I’m also working on the other four Angels Arrien transitions.  Of course working on something is more doing than being and more control than release.  But I can aspire, by degrees, to live the life David Powell describes: "…more about surrendering than concluding."
So, I’m not there yet but on my way.  Besides reading and thinking, I’m sometimes inspired to write aspirational poems, like the one above, to remind me where I’m trying to go.  Here’s another:

I live life always striving
To be where I am not
Never quite arriving
To this ever distant spot

The spot where life is perfect
Where worries don't exist
Where peace and joy and happiness
Merge in perfect bliss

With sixty years of travel
The site is now in view
With miles of life behind me
I realized what I knew 

I knew the spot is not out there
But buried well within
We do our best and when we rest
That's when our life begins.

So I’m on two glide paths.  One is landing my employed life and the other is ramping up my post-employed life over the next four years.  My quest is to engineer a smooth transition to this next phase of life.  With a little luck, I’ll get there. 

Laugh and live life above the fray,
Savor the gift of each moment and day.
The past is prologue but not a script,
The future's unwritten, adventure encrypt.
So, be curious, grateful, stay fluid and wonder
Throw fear, care and worry aside and asunder
Laugh and live life above the fray,
Savor the gift of each moment and day.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Closing A Chapter

Friday night was my final quartet competition.  In some ways it’s a relief to stop banging our collective heads up against the wall.  It seems that no matter what we did as a quartet, no matter how much better we got (and we did improve over the six years we were together) we always finished at about 15th in Mid-Atlantic competition.

Finishing as one of the top 15 quartets in the district that includes New York, Virginia, New Jersey, DC and the eastern part of Pennsylvania is not such a bad thing -- the competition is stiff -- and, with a possible exception or two, the quartets that beat us were better than we were.  The frustrating thing is that our scores never really reflected our improvement.  That, I can’t figure out.

While it will feel good not to have to the Sisyphean task of trying to move the needle on our contest scores and feel good not to be jet-lagged a couple of times a year from singing at after-glows until 2:00 or 3:00 AM., I close the door on this chapter of my life with mixed emotions.

Quartet years are like dog years.  Six years together is equivalent to several quartet lifetimes.  I’ve shared a lot of laughs with the other three guys.  I’ll be making a big hole in my social circle to leave this behind.  Hell, the quartet was my social circle!

Still, there’s a time to move on.  And moving on from quartet singing is really a small part of the larger life transition I’m going through moving toward post-employment life (more on that later). 

The quartet has two more gigs before I hang up the pitch pipe.  Like the book I used to read to my daughters when they were young, “Happy and Sad,” I’m happy to un-complicate my life a little.  And I’m sad too. 

I’m sad that the good times with my quartet buddies will be no more.  I’m mourning that.

Peace Ed, John and Frank!  Thanks for the ride.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Does the world need another piece of pottery?

This summer I took an eight-week wheel-throwing course.  Because we had scheduled vacation during the last week of the course, I crammed my production into seven weeks – going through 75 pounds of clay and producing 25 pieces, 24 of which survived through the bisque and glazing firings.  Unlike glass blowing, once you get the centering down, most pieces survive.
Perhaps because of my glass blowing and wood-turning experience, I got the centering part down pretty quickly.  I think I could get better at the whole thing with more practice.  But I don’t think there will more practice for several reasons.
First, there’s equipment – not so much the wheel but the bisque and glazing furnaces.  I don’t to wish to possess and maintain any piece of equipment that I don’t have to and depending on others to fire your stuff when they’re ready to do a batch is kind of a drag. There are long gaps between a piece being thrown then trimmed and the bisque firing and then again between the glazing and the glazing firing. I finished my last batch of 13 pieces on August 23rd and picked up the last five today, October 8th.   Finally,  pottery firing is an art in itself that I don’t aspire to learn.
Second, although learning to throw pieces may come fairly quickly since you get immediate feedback, glazing is a totally different matter.  The glazes react to each other and the conditions of the firing and can come out different each time.  They certainly don’t resemble the sample glazed pieces.   I stuck to a couple of glazes and things turned out OK, but I don’t want to invest time in the trial and error process of learning what works and what doesn’t.
Finally, there are enough accomplished potters and accomplished ceramic artist in the world.  Does the world need another piece of pottery?  Perhaps, but not from me.  I declare my pottery itch, scratched.
Here’s my lifework wheel-thrown pottery production.

Early pieces -- Matt Brown over Buttercream

We were making cylinders -- I didn't know they were going to be cups.

More Matt Brown over Buttercream.  The Matt Brown turned to pea green.  You can see one has already found use as sugar bowl.

Scarlett Fever over Buttercream.  The Scarlet Fever turned brown.

Pitchers.  The one on the right has an (unintentional) sieve bottom.

 Bigger stuff -- Matt Brown over Buttercream
 Going wild -- Copper Red and Matt Brown over Buttercream

Ron's Teal